Healing the Gap between Nature and our Economy

There is a often a separation between nature and our economical activities. Usually, enterprises only take, extract value and don’t give something valuable back.

At the root of this development is, that in Western society we have learned to see ourselves as outside of nature, somewhat above.

This is also apparent in our money system, which does not reflect the value of intact ecosystems. From that perspective, everything in nature is seen only as ‘resources’, something to be exploited and converted into money.

The money system is therefore an obvious leverage point, from which our behavior towards nature can be changed. One way to do that are local and worldwide alternative currencies with demurrage instead of interest. Such a currency is likely to support long-term projects (really long term, centuries!), because demurrage leads to fast circulation and no savings in form of money. The savings will be made in form of projects, as the pyramids in Egypt and the Gothic cathedrals in Europe demonstrate. During the time they were built, these societies had a dual currency system, as Bernard Lietaer has pointed out. Projects to improve the environment could be funded the same way, returning value instead of extracting it.

Another important step to overcome this gap is simply to acknowledge it, wherever it becomes apparent. Then, all the beautiful and inevitable connections we and our economic activities have with the web of life will also become clearer again and we will correct or abandon destructive activities.

For instance, disturbance resulting from mining activities does not have to be something destructive. Disturbance creates areas with higher potential for change, new growth. Many species can thrive especially well in areas created by mining activities like quarries or open-pit mines, after they are abandoned. Open-pit mines can be reforested or converted into beautiful lakes with much higher ecosystemic value than the landscape before. But it needs some effort. Also, mining leaves scars in the mineral crust of our planet, something that has not got enough attention so far. Subterranean material flows might need restoration too, or could even be improved.

Unlimited Materials and Unlimited Energy?

The replicators in the Star Trek series symbolize a dream of an end to all material scarcity. A similar dream is present in the “new energy movement” seeking unlimited supply of “free” energy.

What most people don’t seem to think about or realize is: Where does it go?

Unlimited input also means unlimited output, with the potential of total pollution.

The only reasonable solution is to create energy circles/traps, to use the same resource or energy as often as possible until it leaves our reach.

About the Boundary between ‘Alive’ and ‘Dead’

We tend to divide the world into a dead (material) part and an alive (biological) part. We call everything in the biological world from animals to bacteria a ‘them’, basically acknowledge them a personality with some kind of intrinsic motivation. But we are not quite sure about viruses, what makes them an interesting case. And everything smaller, macromolecules like DNA, proteins and the whole world of chemicals, is called an ‘it’.

I suggest, that we make this distinction just because we are multicellular beings, who have to die!

In the world of single-celled organisms like Paramecium there is no death by old age.

1_Arturo_Agostino_Paramecium_division_middle   (photo by Arturo Agostino)

They just divide further and further. And this is true for the whole microbial world, as long as the microbes don’t form multicellular structures. When they start building things like that,

Dicty4   multicellular spore containers of Dictyostelium

then programmed cell death comes into play. Cells collude, some form the structure and die, others transform into spores. The spores then get spread from the top of the structure, when it opens.

So, where is the boundary between dead and alive? It is entirely subjective! Death is a relative occurrence in the biological world, just a transformation between levels of aliveness…

What about the levels below – chemicals reactions and the atomic physics underlying them? It’s all part of the game! Every molecule has its specific properties that allow certain interactions, one may say, its ‘will’. Its will is challenged every time, when it encounters other molecules, to either allow or reject a reaction. Why not call this chemical a life form? (I certainly would have enjoyed more to study chemistry and molecular biology, when this metaphor would have been used there. And it would change the behavior of humans who work in these fields a lot…)

Or, to draw a more tangible conclusion: Rocks are not dead!

Alan Watts said it very nicely, what I mean:

They (rocks) contain the potentiality of people in it, the same way seeds of acorn will develop into a plant, when the circumstances are alright.

This is abstract, but totally consistent with the insights of chemistry and biology about the origins of life!

Species or Relationships

We need to put more attention on the relationships between the species, not so much on certain species. Then we will notice and appreciate the context, in which we / someone / a species exist(s) and how connected everything is.

For instance on the biological level we cannot exist without plants and they depend equally on us as animals. We provide the substances they need (carbon dioxide, nitrogen compounds) and vice versa (oxygen, carbohydrates and fats).

Everything we do affects everything else (Earth / climate / our relationships with other people).

Botanical and Zoological Gardens

The old idea of botanical and zoological gardens is a collection of exotic species to show them at home and carry out further research.

Don’t build collections anymore, build ecosystems!

It is not very difficult to realize the connections between species and make them the central message. Many botanical and zoological gardens have already begun to do that by allowing animals in greenhouses or having plants in animal compounds. It can be much more interesting for visitors to realize and watch all the different actions going on, than just one or a few species in a cage without interaction.

A further idea: Show all the levels of evolution, including bacteria and fungi. The categories “plants” and “animals” alone are a little outdated, since we know now, how much richer life on Earth is. Some bacteria and fungi can glow in the dark for instance and have other nicely to watch traits. Mushrooms might not be visible all the time, but they can be included. And it might be possible to build and install large binocular microscopes to watch small or microscopic lifeforms conveniently, or maybe on a screen.

 

Survival of the Fittest?

Over the last 10-20 years this became probably the most famous misquote of any scientist EVER. This phrase was coined by social philosopher Herbert Spencer, NOT Darwin! Darwin’s view was rather “survival of the fit enough”, which leaves much more space for diversity.

Another common misunderstanding in this regard is to set evolutionary fitness equal with strength or ruthlessness. Sometimes it can mean that, but more often fitness is about adaptation to an environment or ecological niche. High levels of cooperation between individuals (social animals) or symbiosis between species often lead to excellent adaptation!

Money

We are so used to have one single national currency, that most people never think about something different.

But the current money system is actually responsible for many issues we face because of the effect of its built-in interest and compound interest. This is a tool to extract and concentrate wealth. As a result the rich (above about 0.5 million) become richer by doing almost nothing, and we destroy natural systems by extracting everything that can be converted into money. Many environmentalists like David Suzuki, John D. Liu and Margrit Kennedy noted that fact. It is very hard to raise funds for social, environmental and other long-term projects, because investors, of course, ask about the bottom line. What if we could change that? Money is just an agreement between us humans, isn’t it?

When we notice currency as a tool, we can design it in many different ways to bring underused resources and unmet needs together. Needs, that are not addressed by the national currencies. For instance social and ecological issues can be easily addressed by a currency with demurrage instead of interest. This can happen at the local level or in regions, countries, even globally.

There are examples in ancient and recent history, where countries or regions (most notably ancient Egypt over a 3000 year long period until the Roman invasion, and European countries in the Middle Ages) thrived on a double currency system, one with interest for transregional and one with demurrage for regional trade.

The current money system is infact a global monoculture, which is efficient in terms of the volume of money transactions, but very unstable. It needs to be balanced with something else. We need an ecosystem of different currencies!

I’d like to thank Bernard Lietaer for his clear insights into that matter, also his co-authors Stephen Belgin and Jacqui Dunne, as well as Margrit Kennedy and Charles Eisenstein.